From There… To Here

The social history of Wester Hailes


REALIZING THE POTENTIAL – HALFWAY THERE?

The Wester Hailes Partnership was launched in 1989 under the banner “Wester Hailes – Full of Potential” tasked with developing and implementing a strategy to regenerate the estate by the end of the 1990s. In 1995, halfway through its expected lifespan, the Scottish Office Central Research Unit published what they called an “Interim Evaluation of the Wester Hailes Partnership”. The Evaluation’s findings were based on a range of existing reports including household surveys carried out in the area in 1989 and 1994, unemployment stats and interviews with a large number of people who had been or were currently involved in the work of the Partnership.

Just how far had the potential of Wester Hailes – located next to a large established industrial estate, close to the Gyle shopping and business hub, and with very good transport links – been realised after 5+ years? Interviews with residents  identified that more people thought that the area was changing for the better than had been the case prior to the Partnership being set up. Also, the energetic participation of the community (i.e. the time spent by unpaid local activists and volunteers across the full range of policy and strategy sub-groups) had been a major factor in getting things off the ground. However, the report also identified the complex administrative structure of the Partnership as placing great demands on these people, flagging up the issue of whether this level of involvement would be sustainable in the longer term.

The community might have been playing its part but, nevertheless, the report concluded that the Partnership “did not get off to a good start”. Edinburgh District Council and Lothian Regional Council were seen as being “reluctant participants” in the early stages when the Partnership was “trying to develop its agenda and create momentum”. The decision to make Wester Hailes a Partnership area was regarded by the two Labour-controlled Councils as being driven by the fact that it was located within the constituency of the then Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind. The lesson the Report drew from this was  that “partnerships formed from the bottom up were likely to pose fewer problems in terms of cohesion and drive” than a top down approach. Also, up to that point, the private sector (essentially private housebuilders) had played a minor role, due to the shortage of developable land.

In terms of actual measurable outcomes, the picture in 1995 was decidedly mixed. The launch of a major redevelopment of the town centre area was seen as a significant achievement. In addition, although health and crime  were not high priorities on the Partneship’s agenda, there was evidence of declining crime rates and of increasing confidence in the local secondary school. On the debit side, there had been no decrease in poverty with the proportion of households receiving benefit payments actually increasing from 68% to 74% between 1998 and 1994. The report interpreted this as reflecting a continuing flow of “disadvantaged households” into the area. And with regard to the Partnership’s economic strategy, there was little sign of reduction in unemployment relative to Edinburgh as a whole. It was noted that the issue of unemployment and the Partnership’s failure to tackle the problem more effectively was where “frustration at the pace of change was expressed most consistently” by interviewees.

Housing had been identified as the key element of the regeneration strategy but, here again, progress had been slow. This was due to a number of factors: there was little vacant land immediately available for development; it took time for Edinburgh District Council and Scottish Homes (the Government’s funding body) to establish an effective working relationship; and there was considerable delay in putting in place agreements to facilitate mixed tenure redevelopments. By 1995 it did seem as though this area of the Partnership’s work was belatedly starting to gain momentum. However, the report noted that the relatively slow progress in the early stages had “conveyed a poor impression of the effectiveness of the Partnership”.

So, according to the the Interim Evaluation, the Partnership’s report card for 1995 was a case of could have done better, maybe a lot better. Despite the fanfare of its launch it had got off to a slow start. There had been a few successes but, in terms of the main regeneration objectives of housing and the local economy, relatively little concrete progress had been made by the midway point. It left a huge amount to be achieved during the second five year period.

Next week we’ll take a look at what was ultimately achieved by the Partnership and what long term legacy it bequeathed to Wester Hailes.


Meditations from a Hot Zone

This month we bring you some personal reflections from Prospect’s Money Advice Officer Pete Mowat on working in Wester Hailes, the changes he has seen, and his perspective on issues of financial exclusion. 

Meditations from a Hot Zone

I was born and grew up in Edinburgh city centre and got to know Wester Hailes as a teenager in the mid 1980’s as a friend of mine lived out here. The area was a lot grimmer then with a predominance of multi-storey housing, and there was little in the way of leisure facilities and things to do for young people.

I started work in Wester Hailes as a Money Advisor with Prospect Community Housing in October 2001. Prospect had decided to recruit a Money Advisor, recognising that it would be a huge advantage to have an in house provider of benefits and debt advice rather than relying on signposting to external and often overstretched advice agencies. Not only does this service assist our tenants manage their finances better and reduce exposure to unmanageable debt and risk of homelessness, it also made sense from Prospect’s point of view. An old and trusted Money Advice phrase is “where there are rent arrears there are other debts”. Any Money Advisor prioritises rent/mortgage debts and works out affordable and often reduced payments to ordinary creditors. Therefore it is a win -win situation, with more tenants maximising income and being enabled to manage payments to rent and other liabilities, whilst the landlord brings in more rental income that is vital for its viability and development.

I was amazed at the changes I saw when I started work not having visited the area for over 15 years. Gone were most of the multi-storey blocks and in their place well designed and pleasant new houses and flats, many with gardens. There were also much improved landscaping and green space areas and much better local shopping and leisure facilities. Furthermore, Prospect’s refurbishment of Clovenstone was near completion.  This area looked hugely improved and remains an impressive development to this day.

Of course it is not just bricks and mortar that make for happy and stable households and I had been employed to assist our tenants maximise their income via receiving benefit/tax credit entitlements, and providing help to negotiate affordable repayments to all manner of bills, credits and debts. These interventions also helped prevent tenants from being made homeless, via such successes as winning appeals to backdate Housing Benefit to reduce or clear rent arrears that were at a level where eviction was a real possibility.

An early example of a case I encountered was an elderly tenant who whilst was paying his rent found it a struggle. He had tried to enquire about Housing & Council Tax Benefits in the past but had been advised that he was not entitled due to the income of another household member. I established this information was incorrect as due to the tenant’s disability the other resident’s income should be disregarded. I made a new claim with the tenant and he was awarded a full rebate on these benefits, saving him over £300.00 per month. I requested this be backdated, which was refused. This went to appeal and finally at tribunal it was agreed to backdate these benefits for the maximum period of 52 weeks, resulting in the tenant receiving over £2,500.00 in payment for Housing Benefit and around £1,000.00 for backdated Council Tax Benefit. Despite the protracted appeal process the tenant was ultimately very satisfied with the outcome of his case. Continue reading